France Suspends New Gas Tax, But Will That Be Enough to Stop Violent Riots?

Since November 17, more than 8,000 protestors wearing yellow vests have taken to the streets of France and battled around 5,000 police officers wielding tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades.

So far, three people have died and more than 260 have been injured nationwide, while over 400 people were arrested in Paris. 

First, the good news. One of the chief items driving the protests was the imposition of a fuel tax, designed to curb emissions. Approved in 2017, the tax imposed a 7.6 cents per liter increase on diesel and a 3.9 cents increase per liter on regular gasoline. A second price hike was scheduled for January 1, 2019, adding another 6.5 cents per liter on diesel and 2.9 cents on gasoline.

As a point of reference, a gallon of gas currently costs around $6 in France — as in most other Western European countries.

On December 4, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced that the French government will put a temporary halt to the carbon tax plan. “No tax is worth putting in danger the unity of the nation,” he declared.

Does this mean the end of the protests? Almost definitely not.

While the fuel tax was the initial cause of protests, they have grown to include grievances about the high cost of living and declining living standards, as well as complaints that President Macron is “the president of the rich.” In one November poll, his approval ratings dropped to 26 percent.

Who are the Gilets Jaunes?

French motorists are required to keep yellow vests in their vehicles in case of an accident. Since the vests represent all drivers, they were adopted as a symbol of the current movement.

The movement began with a petition — Care2 members can relate to this! – created last May by Priscilla Ludosky, who lives in the suburbs of Paris.The petition, demanding a drop in gas prices, went viral and now has over 1.15 million signatures.

The first protests took place on November 17, when roughly 300,000 people protested across the nation. They blocked roads, shopping centers, fuel depots and some factories.

The protestors were primarily those who live and work in rural areas and in the suburbs of France’s big cities. These men and women rely heavily on their cars both to get to work and to take care of their families.

The marches and blockages were mostly peaceful. By contrast, here’s what happened in last weekend’s protests in Paris.

The Guardian’s John Lichfield writes:

I have never seen the kind of wanton destruction that surrounded me on some of the smartest streets in Paris on Saturday – such random, hysterical hatred, directed not just towards the riot police but at shrines to the French republic itself such as the Arc de Triomphe. The 12-hour battle went beyond violent protest, beyond rioting, to the point of insurrection, even civil war.

Protest Movements in France

There have been three major French protests in recent memory. The center of Paris saw similar violence in May, 1968, but most of it came from the police. The movement was a rebellion of students and workers, and it shut down the entire country for six weeks. The result was an improvement in workers’ rights, a general pay raise and a longer summer vacation.

In 2005, riots spread through the multiracial inner suburbs of French towns and cities, protesting low wages, prejudice and racism. At the time, the violence stopped before it reached the city centers.

Last weekend’s protests, by contrast, took place in the very heart of the country’s largest and most affluent city. 

The Way Forward

President Emmanuel Macron and his government have announced only a suspension of the fuel taxes, not a cancellation. 

The protestors want much more: a drop in all taxes, a raise in the minimum salary and a general improvement in the standard of living for the middle- and working-classes. 

The “Gilets Jaunes” have stated that if these changes are not made, they will tell people to stock up on provisions — since they intend to announce a general blockade to all businesses across France on December 10.

President Macron and his government are facing a crisis. As Lichfield writes, “Will Paris burn again? Quite probably.”

Photo Credit: Thomas Bresson/Flickr

38 comments

Marija M
Marija M30 minutes ago

I doubt it...

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Caitlin L
Caitlin L7 hours ago

thank you

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Chad Anderson
Chad A5 days ago

Thank you.

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Celine R
Celine Russo6 days ago

The other points are though... Macron had cancelled a tax for the rich (that the Gilets Jaunes want back because it's unjust that the poorer are the ones paying most of the taxes) and that tax was supposed to help make the ecological transition yet Macron's actions on other areas seemed far from his eco-friendly promises thus leaving a lot of suspicion on the uses of this tax's money. Besides they should improve the public transports so people can ACTUALLY ditch cars -_-'

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David F
David F7 days ago

France is evolving into the disaster that every socialist country has traveled.
Tax the rich only, USA has 35 % better GDP per capita than France and the margin increases.

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Sabrina Degasperi

Excuse me: only for rich people.

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Sabrina Degasperi

A temporary suspension doesn't solve anything, the new tax should be cancelled.
It seems that nothing can be solved if they go on like this.

France seems to be a country for all the rich people.

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ali a
ali a7 days ago

Even if they say OK, 6 months later starts all over and that price will stick.

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Lisa M
Lisa M7 days ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M7 days ago

Thanks.

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